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Soldiers homes sprung from national effort to care for wounded, aged veterans

The state-funded home for veterans in Holyoke finds itself in the spotlight after officials said 13 residents had died recently, six of whom tested positive for COVID-19.
The state-funded home for veterans in Holyoke finds itself in the spotlight after officials said 13 residents had died recently, six of whom tested positive for COVID-19.Leon Nguyen/Associated Press

Perched atop Cherry Hill in Holyoke, it’s a landmark for drivers along Interstate 91 — a symbol of “care and honor and dignity,” as the mission statement goes.

The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, established in 1952, rests on 23 acres on property that was valued at the time at around $3 million, according to news reports from that same year. At an opening ceremony, Governor Paul A. Dever called the home “a monument to the faith of Massachusetts for her veterans.”

The state-funded home for veterans finds itself in the spotlight after officials said 13 residents had died recently, six of whom tested positive for COVID-19.

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The home, as well as an older one in Chelsea, sprung from a broad national effort — following the Civil War — to care for wounded and aged veterans, and in some cases their widows and orphaned children.

The Holyoke home has a 247-bed long-term care nursing facility and a 30-room residence for veterans who need less-intensive care, according to the home’s website. Many of the veterans living there are “particularly vulnerable" to the coronavirus and other respiratory diseases, the home said in a Facebook post.

As of last year, 70 WWll veterans, including three who served in the Battle of Normandy, lived at the Holyoke home. Residents also include those who served in Vietnam and other wars.

The home offers several types of services for veterans with different needs, including long-term care, outpatient services, dental services, residential care, social work services, supportive care services, pastoral care services, and a Veterans Assistance Center to assist with claims and benefits, according to the home’s Facebook page.

Residents can also take part in recreational activities such as physical group exercise, arts and crafts, bingo, current events, group outings, and many other social functions for physical, mental, and emotional care.

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The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, where one veteran has died from the coronavirus, was established in 1882 to provide services for Civil War veterans who couldn’t afford proper care or were too ill to take care of themselves. The hospital also treats veterans who may not have insurance or live at the Soldiers’ Home.

For decades, the home was led by Lawrence F. Quigley, a veteran of the the first World War, and then his son, John L. Quigley, a Marine who received a Purple Heart for the invasion of Iwo Jima in WWII, the Chelsea Record reported.

The Chelsea home serves honorably discharged veterans from the state’s counties other than the four westernmost ones, which are delegated to the Holyoke home.

A $199 million redevelopment of the Chelsea home, projected to be complete by fall 2022, will outfit the new 247,000-square-foot space with a 154-bed long-term care facility.

The facility, which has more than 319 workers, comprises 11 buildings on a 23-acre property on Powder Horn Hill. There is a 305-bed complex of dormitories for veterans who are able to live independently.

Matt Berg can be reached at matthew.berg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.